Liberman’s got problems, but Ayalon’s not one of them
State’s main witness admits to falsifying documents in case;
All of the fuss in Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman’s trial for fraud and breach of public trust has been about ex-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, who was once Liberman’s lieutenant and has been touted as a star witness in the case.
It is understandable that those who are not legal experts have this misconception.
For one, it makes for fantastic and scintillating drama.
One moment Ayalon was defending Liberman and his record to the hilt, as the two of them jointly ran Israel’s foreign policy and were in the top echelon of the same political party. The next moment, Ayalon – essentially tossed unceremoniously out of public service after a distinguished career when he was dropped, still without any real explanation, from the party’s list – was the star witness against Liberman, in an incredible poetic irony.
The only problem is that so far, nothing Ayalon has said publicly would sink Liberman at trial.
Politically Ayalon has lashed out at him and said he should not be reappointed foreign minister, noting both that Liberman has been called unrepeatable names in foreign capitals all over the world and that he did not have the temperament for foreign minister. Instead, Ayalon suggested that the Finance Ministry may be a better fit for him.
Slightly closer to home, the former deputy foreign minister said that Liberman tried to push for several inappropriate or incompetent political-style appointments. While this may sound incriminating, in the next breath, Ayalon added that the push to appoint former ambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, for whom the Belarusan Ambassador Affair is named, to be the envoy to Latvia was just fine.
Not only has he said that Liberman did not push for him in any inappropriate fashion, Ayalon declared that Ben- Aryeh was fit for the job. He also stated that in cases of undeserving candidates, Liberman always backed down from the appointments upon receiving Ayalon’s advice.
If one does not view Ayalon as biased – obviously a big if – at most, one could say Liberman was not a good foreign minister, but Ayalon explicitly shoots down any possible legal attack on the appointments process.
Aside from that, Ayalon has no special knowledge of the original event in the case – Ben-Aryeh illegally giving Liberman classified information in the investigation against him for money-laundering.
Unfortunately for Liberman though, when Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided to indict him, it was not based on Ayalon, who at the time had inexplicably not been interrogated yet.
The case against Liberman is about Ben-Aryeh. The former ambassador cut a plea bargain deal with the prosecution and got four months of community service for what could have been a much harsher sentence.
The state does not cut deals out of the goodness of its heart; it cuts deals to nail bigger fish.
Make no mistake, Ben- Aryeh will be Liberman’s main accuser.
In fact, if he strays too far from the story he told the state, it is not inconceivable for his deal to be reopened, although that is exceedingly rare.
Liberman may be able to attack Ben-Aryeh’s credibility, just as former prime minister Ehud Olmert successfully attacked the credibility of star witnesses against him. He may be able to argue that Ben-Aryeh misunderstood Liberman’s mental state or intent upon receiving the information.
There are reportedly other Foreign Ministry employees that will take shots at Liberman and may build the state’s case. Even Ayalon may help the state’s case if it can convince the court to interpret his testimony on Liberman in a negative light.
But to the extent that Liberman needs to worry about this case, Ben-Aryeh is the real star witness from a legal perspective and the fate of the former foreign minister is likely to rise or fall on his word.